Fourth Comings: A Novel (Jessica Darling Series)

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9781423344483: Fourth Comings: A Novel (Jessica Darling Series)

Is the real world ready for Jessica Darling?

At first it seems that she’s living the elusive New York City dream. She’s subletting an apartment with her best friend, Hope, working for a magazine that actually utilizes her psychology degree, and still deeply in love with Marcus Flutie, the charismatic addict-turned-Buddhist who first captivated her at sixteen.

Of course, reality is more complicated than dreamy clichés. She and Hope share bunk beds in the “Cupcake”—the girlie pastel bedroom normally occupied by twelve-year-old twins. Their Brooklyn neighborhood is better suited to “breeders,” and she and Hope split the rent with their promiscuous high school pal, Manda, and her “genderqueer boifriend.” Freelancing for an obscure journal can’t put a dent in Jessica’s student loans, so she’s eking out a living by babysitting her young niece and lamenting that she, unlike most of her friends, can’t postpone adulthood by going back to school.

Yet it’s the ever-changing relationship with Marcus that leaves her most unsettled. At the ripe age of twenty-three, he’s just starting his freshman year at Princeton University. Is she ready to give up her imperfect yet invigorating post-college life just because her on-again/off-again soul mate asks her to...marry him?

Jessica has one week to respond to Marcus’s perplexing marriage proposal. During this time, she gains surprising wisdom from unexpected sources, including a popular talk show shrink, a drag queen named Royalle G. Biv, and yes, even her parents. But the most shocking confession concerns two people she thought had nothing to hide: Hope and Marcus.

Will this knowledge inspire Jessica to give up a world of late-night literary soirees, art openings, and downtown drunken karaoke to move back to New Jersey and be with the one man who’s gripped her heart for years? Jessica ponders this and other life choices with her signature snark and hyper-intense insight, making it the most tumultuous and memorable week of her twenty-something life.

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About the Author:

Megan McCafferty is the author of the hit novels Sloppy Firsts, Second Helpings, and Charmed Thirds, which was a New York Times bestseller. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and son. To find out more, visit www.MeganMcCafferty.com.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

One

“ Waiting sucks.”

The voice was male and came from behind my right shoulder. I was so startled by the sound of another’s voice rising above the undemanding Top 40 soundtrack, I nearly spazzed myself off my barstool.

The voice tried again, this time with an awkward paraphrase.

“It sucks, you know, to wait.”

To have confirmed the source of the voice would have required me to turn away from the bar. I was the only one seated there, so I knew the voice was directed at me. And yet confirming this fact wasn’t something I was particularly inclined to do. There was a swift movement, followed by a fresh whiff of citrus, sweat, and testosterone. The voice had taken the empty stool to my right.

“I hate being the first to show up anywhere,” he continued, so sure of his hypothesis. “You feel like such a jackass.”

The shift from first to second person was reflexive and unintentional. This is how his kind talk. To confirm, I refocused my attention away from my drink to his face. I was unsurprised by what I saw: a white, early-twentysomething male with a pair of mirrored aviator sunglasses resting on top of his head. His light brown hair was mussed in a calculated way that required far more product than neglect. He was broad-shouldered in his I’m-so-secure-about-my- masculinity-that-I-can-wear-pink Lacoste polo. A popped collar brushed against his ruddy rugby-player cheeks. Without looking down, I knew he had flip-flops on his feet.

Dude.

It could’ve been worse. Plenty of guys renounce Dude’s scruffy preppy aesthetic and take to the sidewalks of this town wearing gaudy madras shorts, striped button-downs, and pastel sweaters knotted around their shoulders, like illustrations straight out of the first edition of The Wasp Handbook. Earlier today on the way to the bar, I spotted a yachting, lockjawed specimen wearing green twill trousers (a corny word, but the only one that fits) with tiny ducks embroidered all over them. Tiny ducks. Unironically. I almost pointed and shrieked, which is something I hadn’t done since first grade when I got smacked in the back of the head for screeching at a man with a cantaloupe goiter in the frozen-foods aisle of the Pineville SuperFoodtown.

Dude wasn’t hot. He wasn’t not. As with most guys of his privileged station and prep school pedigree, Dude was put together well—blandsome —which is all he needs to get laid on a regular basis. He was inspecting me inspecting him, a bemused expression on his face. He lifted himself up ever-so-slightly on his faded denim haunches, a gesture that indicated that he’d give me only a few more seconds before writing me off as embittered, boyfriended, or otherwise impenetrable.

“Hmm,” I murmured. Then I sipped my drink and tried not to wince as the whiskey scarred my windpipe.

Dude settled back onto his stool. My indifference intrigued him, as all romantic impediments do. It’s been scientifically proven. The harder the conquest, the more you want it. It’s called frustration- attraction. (I don’t think it’s unfair for me to pipe in with this parenthetical: Frustration-attraction explains a lot when it comes to you and me.)

“So, you know, when we noticed you”—he thrust his carefully disheveled hairstyle toward a table in the corner, where three identically dressed dudes of varied races were pretending to drink beers instead of watching us—“we figured that one of us should come over and keep you company until your friends arrive.” The fact that his friends were still sitting over there, instead of cockblocking him over here, suggested that money had exchanged hands before Dude made his approach.

“Twenty says I’ll get her number.”

“I’m in.”

“Me too.”

“Dude, you are so owned.”

“Hmm,” I said again.

“So where are they?” he asked. “Your friends?”

It wasn’t an unreasonable question. I was, after all, a female sitting conspicuously alone in a college bar, drinking whiskey on a Saturday barely past one in the afternoon. Girls who look like me don’t drink whiskey by themselves in bars barely past one in the afternoon. Granted, it wasn’t the kind of dingy dive bar that ruins reputations, but a respectable Princeton institution that serves classic pub fare along with whatever is on tap. It’s proudly decorated with orange-and-black paraphernalia and even sells a poster- sized version of a mural depicting Brooke Shields sitting in a booth across from Einstein, Toni Morrison, and other less instantly recognizable local luminary. Parents still bursting with pride were dining in the back room with their sons and daughters— freshmen and freshmeat who also arrived early for the pre-Orientation programming— enjoying one last lunch as a family before leaving their children alone to embark on their miraculous college journeys.

“My friends aren’t here,” I said. “Just me.”

My first cryptic yet intelligibly human response made him break out into a smile. His teeth, it almost goes without saying, were thermonuclear white.

“I’m Dave,” he said, extending a gentlemanly hand. “And you are . . . ?”

“I’m Jenn,” I lied. “With two n’s.”

“Two n’s?” Dude was emboldened by two multisyllabic replies in

a row. “And how do you defend this blatant overuse of unnecessary consonants?”

Dude thought very highly of himself, and he considered this comment to be charming as all hell. As a female, I didn’t have to play along in the same way. Just sitting there, seemingly agog at his patrician charms and in possession of a functional vagina, really, was the only participation required on my end. And yet I couldn’t stop myself.

“I need two n’s,” Jenn-with-Two-N’s continued in this facetious, flirtatious vein. “Because one’s naughty and the other’s . . .”

“Nice?” he offered.

“Or not.”

Dude laughed really, really hard. He thought I was being ironic, which I was. But he was unaware of the full extent of this parody playing out before him. Ours was a multilayered mockery of a conversation, one occurring within a set of quotations within quotations within quotations. I was tired of having these types of conversations. I had a relationship with a philosophy major at Columbia that existed entirely within multiple sets of quotations.

“Why haven’t I seen you around here before?”

“I don’t go to Princeton,” said Jenn-with-Two-N’s.

“I didn’t think so,” Dude said. “By the time you’re a senior, you feel like you know everyone even if you don’t.”

“Maybe it’s because you all look alike,” I replied, gesturing my glass toward the corner table. “That is, in your racially diverse way.”

This also made him laugh. “I should be offended.”

“But you’re not.”

“No,” he said. “Because it’s true.”

I finished my drink in one long gulp. It was starting to burn less. Jessica Darling is a puker. But Jenn-with-Two-N’s could handle her liquor. Dude lifted his finger to alert the bartender that we’d like another round. He was drinking Stella Artois.

“So you don’t go here,” he said.

“No.”

“Work here? Live here?”

“No,” I said. “And no.”

“So if you don’t mind me asking,” Dude said, cracking his knuckles in such a way that required him to flex his lats, delts, and pecs, “what are you doing here?”

“I . . . don’t . . . know.” Each word a mystery unto itself.

Dude smiled because he thought I was joking. But it was a tight smile, one that betrayed his concern that I might be a bit of a nutcase, a drunken one-night stand not worth the psychotic hangover. He asked a question designed to get a better sense of what he was dealing with.

“So what do you do?”

“Breathe,” I blurted in a bad German accent. “Eat. Fuck. Shit. Not necessarily in zat order.”

I was quoting my landlord, Ursula, but Dude didn’t know that. He looked over a muscular shoulder to the boys in the corner, perhaps wondering how he was going to get out of this bet but still save face.

“ ‘What do you do?’ is the first question people in the States ask when they meet someone,” I said. “No one asks that question in Europe. It’s considered rude. Over there, people don’t want to be defined by their jobs. Over here, it’s the only way most people define themselves. I’m an i-banker. I’m a corporate lawyer. I’m in real estate.”

Dude’s eyes glazed over, and not with booze. How could I ever expect this future titan of industry to understand?

“I’m in publishing.”

It took a moment for Dude to realize that I wasn’t speaking in faux first person anymore and that I had just informed him that I, Jenn- with-Two-N’s, work in publishing.

“Oh. Like books?” Dude asked.

“A magazine.”

“What magazine?”

“Well, it’s really more of a journal than a magazine,” I said. “I’m sure you’ve never heard of it.”

“What? You think I don’t read? You think I’m illiterate? I do go to Princeton, you know.”

“I had no idea,” I said dryly.

I also had no idea why I was still talking to Dude in th...

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